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New details about Kauffman murder emerge during bail hearing
Investigator: Body buried behind Pop N Cork
pop n cork pic1
Pop N Cork owners Baljit Athwal and Daljit Athwal are charged with murder in the death of Korey Kauffman. The East Avenue liquor store is also believed to be the first burial place for Kauffman's remains. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

Three of the defendants accused of killing a 26-year-old Turlock man will remain in custody for the time being as a judge denied their request for bail, while two others were granted the opportunity to post bail, though it comes at a steep price.

Judge Socrates Peter Maunoukian, the visiting presiding judge over the Korey Kauffman murder trial, ordered Pop N Cork brothers Baljit and Daljit Athwal, along with defense attorney and one-time district attorney candidate Frank Carson, be held without bail, while Carson’s wife, Georgia DeFilippo, and former California Highway Patrol officer Walter Wells were each granted a $10 million bail. The two would have to put up a million dollars each to get out on bail.

Carson, DeFilippo, Wells, the Athwal brothers and Robert Lee Woody all stand accused of first-degree murder for the death of Korey Kauffman on March 31, 2012. They are accused of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Carson is also facing a charge of perjury. Woody was not present at Tuesday’s hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court and his case is being tried separately.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday they would not be seeking the death penalty against any of the defendants in the case.

Additionally, the district attorney’s office has arrested and charged Carson’s stepdaughter Christina DeFilippo and CHP Officers Eduardo Quintanar and Scott McFarlane on charges of conspiracy and being accessories in the case. The three have been out on bail since being arrested on Aug. 14, and were not part of Tuesday’s hearing.

Tuesday’s proceeding was scheduled to be an arraignment, but the proceedings were largely taken up by the question of whether or not the defendants should be allowed bail. None of the five have entered pleas to the charges against them.

Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira argued that all five of the defendants should be denied bail because of the gravity of the offense and the danger they pose to society — a concept several of the defense attorneys took issue against.

Percy Martinez, who is representing Carson, argued that the investigators had a Ramey warrant in 2014 to arrest Carson and the Athwal brothers but opted not to take action on it.

“They must not have been much of a threat… if they waited 16 months,” Martinez said.

Ferreira also argued for the denial of bail based on threats made to potential witnesses, in particular Michael Cooley, who was Carson’s neighbor in 2012 when Kauffman went missing. According to the affidavit filed in support of the Ramey warrant used to arrest the defendants, two people heard Carson and Cooley arguing over stolen property sometime between February and March 2012. During the argument, Carson was allegedly overheard telling Cooley that “if I ever catch anyone in my backyard I will kill them and no one will ever find them.”

Kauffman left Cooley’s home on Lander Avenue on the night of March 30, 2012. Investigators learned he was headed to a home in the 800 block of Ninth Street with the intent of stealing some irrigation pipes. The property belongs to Carson and abuts up to the Lander Avenue residence where Cooley resided. The two men had been in a long-running feud over stolen property, with Carson accusing Cooley on multiple occasions of stealing his property.

Up to a certain point, law enforcement had been called out to mitigate the ongoing dispute. The stolen property Carson was seeking was never found in Cooley’s possession and no arrests were ever made.

The district attorney’s office contends that Carson decided to take the matter into his own hands by making a list of people he believed were stealing from him and giving that list to the Athwal brothers. They also accuse Carson of soliciting known criminals to send a message to Cooley and others that he would not tolerate any more thefts. Prosecutors say Carson solicited Ronald Cooper and Patrick Hampton on separate occasions to “commit assault with great bodily injury on unidentified persons found to be trespassing” on his property, according to the criminal complaint filed in the case.

Cooper is a Turlock resident who met Carson after being assigned to the same jail cell as Rajesh Singh, who is the brother of Praveen Singh, who served as a private investigator for Carson and operates his own bail bond company, according to the affidavit. While in custody Cooper wrote a letter to Carson that stated he knew who was stealing from Carson and that he should come down to the jail to talk to him and help him with his legal troubles. In Cooper’s recount of the conversation to investigators, he said Carson asked him who was responsible for the thefts and he told him it was Cooley and his friends that were responsible for the thefts. According to Cooper’s account, Carson asked him if he had any friends out of custody that could help him with his property, but Cooper said no.

In the affidavit, the investigators said this showed Carson “was seeking persons of a criminal element to help him take care of his theft problem outside of involving law enforcement.”

Hampton was also an inmate when he first met Carson.  Hampton sent a letter to a district attorney investigator in January of this year that detailed his dealings with Carson. Hampton told investigators he met Carson in 2011 when Carson agreed to represent him on a probation violation for $1,000 to $1,500, which Hampton could pay later. Prior to a bail reduction hearing, Hampton said he and Carson had a private conversation in which Carson asked him if he was “familiar with people in Turlock,” according to the affidavit. Hampton said he did and Carson asked if he knew the Cooley brothers. He said he knew them from jail. Hampton said Carson looked at his file and said he thought Hampton was the type of guy who “takes care of sh—.” According to the affidavit, Carson told Hampton the Cooley brothers needed to be “dealt with because they are robbing me blind.”

After Hampton was later bailed out by Praveen Singh’s bail bond company he was contacted by Carson, who asked him if he had a chance to “get at them” and “take care of that.” Hampton told the investigators he later told Carson it had been taken care of, though he actually hadn’t done anything. He later jumped his bail and was a fugitive. When he was caught again, he had a conversation with Carson, in which Carson said he had a lot of “nerve” in asking Carson to help him again.

In requesting the bail denial, Ferreira also pointed to threats made to Kauffman days before he was murdered.

John Paden told investigators that two days before Kauffman disappeared, he saw a black BMW pull up to Kauffman’s residence on Johnson Road in Turlock and yell out to him, “your ass is grass.” Paden told the investigators, as recounted in the affidavit, that Kauffman flipped the men off and they drove away. The affidavit states investigators determined the BMW belonged to Daljit Athwal and that the two men in the car were Baljit Athwal and Woody — an accusation their defense attorneys deny.

In the affidavit investigators recount information provided by Kimberly Stout about the last time she talked to Kauffman, which was also just a day or two before his death. Stout told the investigators that Kauffman told her about the guys from Pop N Cork coming to his home and threatening to kill him if he didn’t stay off Carson’s property. Stout described the clothing Kauffman was wearing the day they spoke, which fits with the clothing scraps found with his remains in the Stanislaus National Forest.

Martha Carlton-Magana, who is representing Baljit Athwal, argued that Stout never said it was him in the car. The affidavit states Stout believed it was Woody and Daljit’s “nephew or uncle.”

The judge specifically asked the prosecution about how DeFilippo had threatened any of the witnesses, to which the prosecution said she was present when Carson threatened Cooley, that she was a part of the” planning, preparations and intent” to catch someone on the property, and that intercepted texts and phone calls showed she addressed a problem with a neighbor by suggesting violence.

DeFilippo’s attorney, Tim Pori, argued that there was no evidence his client had made direct threats to anyone, or that she even knew Kauffman.

“She had no prior relation with Korey Kauffman or any prior knowledge of him,” Pori said.

In the debate over bail, Ferreira put district attorney investigator Steven Jacobson on the stand and that led to new details about the case being revealed. Jacobson testified he had an interview with Woody on Aug. 14 and 15, after the defendants had been arrested and that Woody was cooperating with law enforcement and providing new details about the murder and the aftermath.

Woody told the investigator that prior to Kauffman’s disappearance, Carson, Baljit Athwal, and himself all met at Carson’s law office in Modesto. Before going inside the office Woody was instructed to turn off his cell phone and leave it in the vehicle with Baljit Athwal’s phone. At this meeting, Woody said Carson told them he had some business he wanted them to take care of and gave them a list of names. Woody told Jacobson Carson was being cryptic, but the point was made that he wanted to send a clear message to the people on the list.

Jacobson testified that Woody told him that around 11 p.m. March 30, 2012, Baljit Athwal left the Pop N Cork store to go check on Carson’s property. About an hour later he summoned Daljit Athwal and Woody to the property. Woody told the investigator that as they pulled into the property he saw Baljit Athwal and Kauffman fighting with one another and that Kauffman was getting the better of Baljit Athwal.

Woody told Jacobson that Daljit Athwal joined the fight and that the two brothers were severely beating Kauffman. He recounted that Kauffman tucked his head down and was in a fetal position, though still standing. He said the Athwal brothers landed several punches to Kauffman’s head and body. Woody said he tried to stop the fight, but was unable to pull them off Kauffman.

Woody told the investigator he turned to leave, which is when he heard a gunshot. When he turned back around he saw Kauffman lying lifeless on the ground with a bullet wound to his upper back and the two Athwal brothers standing over him.

During the interview with Jacobson, Woody recounted telling the brothers that they couldn’t leave the body there, which is when they decided to take it to Pop N Cork and bury it in a fenced yard by the store.

Woody claimed he dug a two-foot grave, while Baljit Athwal served as a lookout and Daljit Athwal went back and reopened the store. Woody told the investigators that he and Baljit Athwal cut off Kauffman’s fingers and toes before burying him.

Woody told the investigator that while he was digging the grave, Wells arrived at the store and was seen laughing with Daljit Athwal. In the criminal complaint the district attorney’s office accuses Wells of possessing Kauffman’s cell phone between March 30, 2012 and April 16, 2012.

Woody said they left the body buried there until investigators started questioning them about the disappearance. After 27 days, Woody and Baljit Athwal dug up Kauffman’s remains and drove to the Stanislaus National Forest, where they left it not far from a ravine and out in the open for animals to scavenge. That same day Woody said he set Baljit Athwal’s truck on fire and Baljit Athwal later reported it stolen.

Jacobson testified that Woody showed him the area at the Pop N Cork property where the body was buried and that there was evidence of the “hard pan” disturbed. He also said they found a portion of a zipper that investigators believe came from Kauffman’s hoodie. It is currently undergoing forensic testing.

The defense attorneys argued that the judge should not give too much credence to Woody’s statements because he has told several different versions of what happened that night, all with varying degrees of his own culpability.

Carlton-Magana argued the only evidence against her client, Baljit Athwal, “comes from a felon and a liar,” referring to Woody.

Outside of the matter of bail, the court addressed several other issues on the case, the first of which was remarks allegedly uttered by Carson at the end of his first court appearance on Aug. 18. Ferreira told the court that as Carson was escorted from the courtroom he called her a “f—g amateur” and a “f—g c—t.” Deputy District Attorney John Gould told the court he heard the second part of the utterance.

Carson denied ever saying any such thing to Ferreira. The judge said Carson was entitled to the benefit of the doubt, but also cautioned him on using such language in the court.

In another piece of business, the court announced that retired San Joaquin County Judge Robert Baysinger would be the judge handling the case from here on out, as well as the civil matter of the California State Bar seeking jurisdiction over Carson’s legal practice. However, the appointment didn’t last more than an hour after one of the defense attorneys raised an objection. Carlton-Magana objected to Baysinger being appointed the judge on the case, stating he was “biased against her and/or her client” and requested he be removed. Carlton-Magana is representing Baljit Athwal. The request was granted and before the end of the day the court had found and appointed retired Contra Costa County Judge Barbara Zuñiga to the criminal and civil cases.

The matter of having the defendants shackled was also taken up again. The defense attorneys argued that their clients could not help in their own defense because they had their hands shackled at their waists, which is linked to shackles around their ankles. In addition to those shackles, the defendants have had their shackles chained to the floor during interviews with their attorneys at the jail. Judge Maunoukian ruled for the interim the defendants can have one hand unchained while meeting with their attorneys at the jail. He also allowed Carson to have one hand free in the courtroom because Carson is serving as co-counsel to his attorney.

The defense attorneys also introduced several motions they plan on filing and serving to the interested parties, including one to recuse the district attorney’s office from prosecuting the case. The motion will be heard at a later date.

The case is due back in court on Sept. 14.